William Still was minister of Gilcomston South Church of Scotland, Aberdeen for 52 years.
He was born in Aberdeen in May 1911, the son of William and Helen Still, both from the little fishing village of Gardenstown. From his earliest childhood young William was taken to the meetings of the Salvation Army Corps in Aberdeen. Already by the age of thirteen he was a decided Christian. But his childhood and teens were dogged by weakness that at times was almost crippling – and from which he was rescued only by the intervention of a Glasgow physician.
Denied service in the Salvation Army because of his health, in his late twenties he studied for entrance to the University of Aberdeen (having left school at the age of thirteen), and during the Second World War he prepared at Christ’s College, Aberdeen, for the ministry of the Church of Scotland. He spent a year in Glasgow as assistant to Dr William Fitch, minister of Springburn Hill Church, then in 1945 was called to Gilcomston South Church in Aberdeen.
William Still came to his ministry as a child of some of the dominant influences of the evangelical world of the mid-twentieth century: the theology of The Salvation Army, the general ethos of The Scofield Reference Bible, and the emphases of the older quasi higher-life type Bible teachers. In the post-war years there were bright and busy evangelistic meetings with large numbers of converts ‘falling into the Lord’s hands like plums’, as he put it.
Then came the first revolution: he ‘stumbled’ on expository preaching as on successive Sundays he found himself, as if by accident, preaching consecutively through a portion of Romans. He saw that the task to which God was calling him was to build strong Christian character through the ministry of God’s Word, patiently expounded and searchingly applied to the consciences of his hearers. Putting these convictions to the test, he abandoned the Saturday night evangelistic rallies and began a prayer meeting instead.
He continued to find the light of Scripture breaking into and reshaping his thinking – and as he did so, he drew the congregation through the experience with him – until his theology became increasingly moulded by Scripture and distinctively Reformed in character. He preached (and wrote) his way through the entire Bible several times.
There were no organizations in the congregation, with the minor exception of a Sunday School for children under seven. Beyond that the church was seen as a family, and its gatherings were regarded as relevant to all the members. This applied equally to the two Sunday services, the mid-week Bible Study and the Saturday night meeting for prayer. His central emphasis was on the ministry of the Word and prayer, worship and fellowship, and the consequent witness of the church as individuals and as a fellowship in the city and beyond.
On his eighty-sixth birthday, William Still demitted the pastoral charge of the congregation he had served with unstinting devotion for 52 years. He died in July 1997.
The fruit of his ministry in the university city of Aberdeen has spread, both in personal influence and in prayer, to the ends of the earth in the multitude of spiritual sons and daughters who constitute his true children (he remained single throughout his life). His example of biblical ministry has been a beacon to guide and encourage countless gospel ministers; his deep pastoral love for his own congregation, his commitment to shaping a truly Christian fellowship, his investment of profound personal care and prayer in the lives of countless people and, in addition, the penetrating insights of his writings – these constitute his spiritual legacy.
The Trust publishes a selection of his congregational letters – Letters of William Still – and a book of devotional readings edited by David Searle – Through the Year with William Still.[See also the Biographical Introduction to Letters of William Still and the obituary in The Banner of Truth magazine, No. 409 (Oct. 1997), both by Sinclair B. Ferguson, from which the above has been compiled.]